In Defense of DeWitt & Company

On owning the St. Louis Cardinals, "The most difficult aspect is balancing a requirement to operate a team on a sound financial basis, while trying to do everything to win on the field." Bill DeWitt, St. Louis Commerce Magazine, interview, June 2000. A 13-year look at the St. Louis Cardinals while under the stewardhip of DeWitt and Company.

The statement came as a complete surprise to fans across this great Cardinal Nation. Anheuser-Busch, the company that had own the St Louis Cardinals since 1953 (my entire lifetime) made an announcement in October of 1995 that they intended to sell the Cardinals.

"We concluded it was in the best interest of everyone, including the Cardinals and the fans, to seek a new owner," brewery chairman August Busch III said. Anheuser-Busch offered the team a package that included Busch Stadium, the home of the Cardinals since 1966 and two downtown parking garages near the stadium.

In was 13 years ago this week, a group headed by William O. DeWitt Jr. purchased the Cardinals from Anheuser-Busch for a reported $150 million, pending the approval of National League owners. The sale becoming official on March 21, 1996.

It was a blue Christmas in 1995 for a lot of Cardinal fans, as it was out with the old, and in with the new, as they had to struggle with change, something that is difficult for many people to deal with especially when it comes to the change of ownership of your favorite baseball team.

The 1995 Cardinals finished the season in fourth place with a record of 62-81, .423, 22.5 games out of first place. Attendance ranked 7th in the National League with only 1,756,727 fans passing through the gates at Busch Stadium.

Thirteen years later, we to take a look at the DeWitt & Company era and the state of Cardinal Nation.

There is no loss for critics that claim the current ownership group is not committed to winning, or willing to make the necessary financial commitment to keep the St. Louis Cardinals competitive on a year to year basis. There are those who yearn for those better days when Anheuser-Busch ran the club.

The question is, were the good old days, really the good old days?

I think it is fair to measure the success of a baseball team, by its won-loss record and the overall financial health of the organization, including the return on investment.

The Won-Loss Records

DeWitt and Company have been at the helm of the St. Louis Cardinals for 13 years, so a comparison of the won-loss record of the team in the 13 seasons preceding the change in ownership is in order.

In the 13 seasons leading up to the sale of the Cardinals in 1996, the team won two National League Championships (1985 & 1987) and compiled a total won-loss record of 1039-999 for a winning percentage of .509.

In the 13 seasons following the sale of the Cardinals, the team has won a World Series (2006), a National League title (04), four Division titles (05,02,00,96) and a Wild Card berth (01), posting a 13 season won-loss record of 1141-961, for a winning percentage of .542.

The evidence suggests that under the DeWitt ownership, the St. Louis Cardinals have experienced significantly more success on the field than the team experienced in the previous 13 seasons leading up to the team's sale.

The Money Trail

In 1995, the year before DeWitt and Company took over the team, the St. Louis Cardinals had a payroll of $28.7 million, which was ranked 20th out of 28 teams. That also was their position in 1994, but in the five years before that, they had fallen steadily in the salary standings, from eighth in 1988 to an all-time low of 23rd in 1993.

In 1995, the Cardinals payroll ($28,679,250 ranked #20) was $4,727,938 below the league average payroll of $33,407,188 and was 49% of the Yankees payroll of $58,165,252, which naturally ranked first.

In 1996, the first year on DeWitt and Company's watch, the Cardinals payroll grew from $33,407,188 to $38,730,666 an increase of $10,051,416 in just one year, propelling their MLB payroll ranking from #20, all the way up to #10.

The Cardinals 1996 payroll was $5,040,518 above the league average of $33,690,148 and it closed the payroll gap between have-nots, (St. Louis) and the haves, (New York Yankees), from 49% to 62%, with New York raising their 1996 payroll to $61,511.870.

Skip ahead to 2008, according to the formula Major League Baseball and its member clubs use to determine a club's overall payroll, the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that ranks in the bottom 10 teams for market size ( #9), had the 11th-highest payroll out of 30 teams in baseball. To put things in perspective, based on market size alone, the Cardinals payroll should be in the neighborhood of $68 million - $70 million range.

As a payroll benchmark, using Major League Baseball's payroll numbers from 1985, it is interesting to note, that in the final year of the Anheuser-Busch ownership, the Cardinals payroll was 49% of that of the highest payroll in baseball, the New York Yankees. Interestingly, the Cardinals 2008 payroll was still at 48% of the Yankees payroll.

The franchise's value has more than doubled since DeWitt's group bought the team for $150 million from Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. in March 1996. It is currently valued at $484 million, and can boast the 10th-highest valuation in the Major Leagues, according to Forbes magazine. That valuation is based on the club's revenue, debt, payroll, goodwill and other variables.

In closing, when DeWitt and Company took ownership of the Cardinals they stated that their objective was to honor the Cardinals great history and success of the past by extending it into the future. Without any reservations, with the success on the field and under their good stewardship, the current ownership group has lived up to their promise.

So if you are having a blue Christmas because the Cardinals haven't made that blockbuster trade or signed a major free-agent during this winter's shopping season, trust me, rest assured the Cardinals are in good hands and have a Merry Christmas.

 

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